Comelec: First day of overseas voting successful despite some hiccups

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
Comelec: First day of overseas voting successful despite some hiccups
On Sunday, Filipinos in Hong Kong fell in line to cast their votes on the first day of the overseas voting period.
Philippine Consul General to Hong Kong Raly Tejada

MANILA, Philippines — Overseas voting for Filipino migrants kicked off Sunday with some Philippine posts reporting that the first day of voting for Filipino migrants in their areas were successful, while some have yet to receive election paraphernalia.

"Generally, it was peaceful and successful except only for some issues that we can’t avoid or logistical issues due to COVID," Commission on Elections Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said in a mix of English and Filipino during a briefing on Monday.

Over 1.697 million Filipinos abroad will be casting their ballots through embassies or consulates during the month-long voting period. Filipino migrants have the opportunity to vote until May 9.

Delayed voting

The commission said only three out of the 92 Philippine posts abroad were not able to open polls on Sunday. This included Islamabad in Pakistan, Shanghai in China, and Timor Leste.

"In Islamabad, there was an issue regarding the release of the election materials with Pakistan customs and it is expected to be released today. We have 564 overseas voters there," Casquejo said.

Comelec earlier suspended overseas voting in Shanghai due to the lockdown brought by the recent COVID-19 surge. However, the poll body said the election materials are already in Shanghai and will be delivered to the consulate there once restrictions lifted. 

Meanwhile, the commission said it is waiting for flights from the Philippines going to Timor Leste where 706 Filipinos are registered to vote. Casquejo said personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs are expected to fly out this Thursday via Kuala Lumpur.

Those under the jurisdiction of the Philippine Embassy in Wellington in New Zealand (postal), the Philippine Consulate in New York (postal), and the Philippine Consulate in Milan (mixed personal and postal) have polls delayed because of the arrival of the vote counting machines (VCM) and delivery of the ballots to the posts.

He said the machines are expected to arrive at the posts today. The Philippine posts will then conduct the final testing and sealing. 

In a Facebook post earlier today, Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand Gary Domingo said the ballots for the upcoming polls have arrived and the embassy will mail out the ballots to voters “over the coming days.”

Meanwhile, the consulate in New York in an advisory said that the boxes with election paraphernalia departed the FedEx Facility in Memphis today. The voting process was delayed because of “logistical difficulties encountered by the [Comelec].” 

The commission said it cannot conduct election activities in Baghdad, Iraq, Tripoli, Islamabad [that serves] Afghanistan, and Ukraine. 

"There is no capacity of a post to conduct voting because of the security issues," Casquejo said.

Hong Kong logs 3,285 voters

The Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong said 3,285 voters, 98% of which are women, were able to cast their ballots at the Bayanihan Kennedy Town Center on the first day of overseas voting.

The consulate said it did not encounter technical problems with the VCMs. However, three ballots were rejected due to unnecessary marks and inadvertent damage. 

"No protests were made in this regard," the consulate said.

Representatives of overseas Filipinos in Hong Kong earlier said that the five precincts in the special administrative region will not be enough to service the voters there totaling over 93,000.

The Commission on Elections George Garcia said in a televised interview with ANC’s “Headstart” on Monday that it was the decision of the post to only have five precincts. Comelec said during its briefing that it is already planning to add five more to have 10 precincts to accommodate as much as 5,000 voters daily.

Consul General Raly Tejada appealed to Filipinos as early as 10 a.m. on Sunday to consider voting on another day after the long lines of Filipino voters caught the attention of the Hong Kong Police Force. Hong Kong is experiencing its fifth wave of COVID-19 infections with 1,921 new cases logged Sunday

Filipinos in Indonesia cast ballots in person, and through field voting

Meanwhile, Filipinos in Indonesia were able to cast their ballots by going to the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta and through the field voting held in Medan, North Sumatra on Sunday.

The embassy said field voting will also be conducted, along with consular outreach services, in Semarang on April 16, Bali on April 23, Batam on April 30, and Surabaya on May 7. 

Comelec data shows 3,027 voters are registered with the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta, while 167 are registered in the consulate in Manado. 

Singapore sees 2,370 voters

Over at the Lion City, the Philippine Embassy in Singapore said it saw a voter turnout of 2,370 in the first day of voting. 

Cheryl Abundo, a Filipino based in Singapore, in a Facebook post said she was given a pre-shaded ballot when she voted on Monday. It was later identified as a spoiled ballot from Sunday. 

Abundo told Philstar.com that she is verifying with the poll watcher at the embassy if this morning’s incident was included in the official minutes of voting. She also said she reached out to Comelec and the embassy.

Meanwhile, the embassy clarified it was an “isolated incident” after unverified sources began spreading that the embassy had been giving out pre-shaded ballots to voters on Monday. 

It said the lone incident was recorded in the minutes of voting and clarified that the pre-shaded ballot was given unintentionally. 

“The Embassy assures the public that it is totally committed to provide a system of honest and orderly overseas absentee voting that upholds the integrity of the voting process,” the embassy said. 

Comelec during the briefing said it will verify reports of pre-shaded ballots and warned those spreading false information on this year's elections may face prosecution. — with report from James Relativo





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